August Wilson’s FENCES is more than just a great play. It is a Pulitzer Prize winning drama about fathers, sons and families. So it is a great challenge to bring something that revered to the movie theater. For his third time in the director’s chair, Denzel Washington mostly succeeds.
The film is centered around Washington’s character, Troy Maxson. He’s a former Negro League ball player who is now a garbage man in Pittsburgh. He is married to Rose (Viola Davis) and has two sons. One is an aspiring jazz musician from a previous fling, the other belongs to Troy and Rose. Cory(Jovan Adepo) is about 17 and is good at sports, but his father doesn’t want that for him. He wants him to learn a trade and get a decent job. Cory is being recruited to play college football. Troy is not having it.
Troy pals around with his fellow garbage man, Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), goes to a local bar and hangs around his house. He provides for his family and that in his mind is all he is supposed to do.
I don’t want to reveal too much more about the plot for fear of revealing spoilers. But this is a big bomb dropped and the inciting incident fuels much of the conflict.
If you want to learn anything about acting, watch this film. It is a master class because each actor makes the correct choices which adds to the audiences understand of their character’s motivation. There is not a false note in any of the performances. Viola Davis should just clear a space on her mantle for another Oscar. It is an all-time classic performance as a wife dealing with her husband’s transgressions. (Oops, is that a spoiler?). Washington is wonderful as well. Ok, qualifier. He is great after about the first 20 minutes, where he is “acting”. Big performance. Big speeches. His “hey look at me, I want an Oscar Nomination” clip reel. But once his character stops giving long speeches, and fits into the plot of the movie he gets miles better. It is a solid and spectacular performance.
Fences is a really good movie. It is a very human story in which characters deal with very human problems. The screenplay was adapted by August Wilson himself. And maybe that is the problem. It feels a little too much like someone decided to shoot a performance of the play, rather than take advantage of the space a film can display. It’s not bad, it just could have been so much more without the shackles of the format.

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